"IS THIS THAT?"
Raymond L. Shreve
Come! Let us visit a walled city in the East. This experience will be made up largely of sights, sounds, and smells. Those who have been there will smile at my attempt to “take” you there for they “know” all about it. But release your imagination; it will be difficult to exaggerate.
At the first glimmer of solid dawn the massive gates announce their opening with the screeches and screams of unoiled hinges and supports. Traffic springs as if from the very cobble stones. The trickle grows swiftly to a stream. It is best we follow the flow, because to our western mind the meandering of these streets is utterly without rhyme or reason. They twist and turn, branch and intersect, widen and narrow in fascinating, but confusing fashion.
The edge of the street is the wall of the building. Buildings join hard to one another, sometimes sharing a common dividing wall. Often the walls on either side of the street run for long stretches unbroken except by the gates which mark the entrance into a “house.” Most streets lead to the only open area of a typical walled town, the central square, or market place where nearly all business is transacted. It is toward this place that the flow of traffic is carrying us.
The bewildering panorama passing before us is complemented by the cacophony of sounds. As though it were a signal to begin, the screech of the opening gate introduces a gradually increasing mixture of sounds that comes through as a continuous press of decibels. It ebbs and flows, but relentlessly builds until at about the middle of the second hour of the day, it peaks as a roar of sound. The drop-off is imperceptible at first, but becomes distinctly noticeable into the third hour. Most of the pressing business is done, there is less shouting. The donkeys, dogs, and cattle are all quiet.
But as we are less overawed by the sights and sounds, a third sense presses its stimulation upon one's consciousness. Suddenly we realize that for some time now our olfactory nerves have been under bombardment by new (to us) and strange (could we say exotic?) stimuli. We have been too occupied with seeing and hearing to smell. But as the day begins to heat up, our noses will no longer be ignored! What is that smell?
It would take a lifetime to isolate each separate odor, and by then we would have ceased to notice. But for now let’s see-the reek of garbage thrown in the street, the fumes from buckets of night soils (human waste) being dumped into transporting tanks, the scent of unwashed, human bodies spiced by a diet heavy in onions, garlics, leeks, and a hundred other exotic (to us) foods and flavorings. The droppings of animals, the decomposing carcass of a rodent that died in some inaccessible crevice are discernable, but go together to give character to the atmosphere.
Those who can afford it build second- and third-story rooms to get above the noise and stench of the street, to be able to open up to the breeze cut off by the walls at ground level. A first-floor window opening on the street is unheard of, dangerous, and useless.
Give or take a particular or two, we have visited most any walled city of the East. It was in such a city in one of those second-or third-story upper chambers that 120 people waited expectantly. They had been gathered for several days. The directions and the promise had been very explicit:
“...Tarry in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
“...commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father....” (Acts 1:4)
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
And exactly so it happened! Either they had been there through the nights or they had gathered early, when suddenly there came from heaven the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and it filled all the house. Forked tongues like fire sat on each of them! They were all filled with the Holy Spirit! Like detonated dynamite in a rock crevice, they burst forth upon the startled citizens and visitors who gathered by the droves to observe this phenomenon-120 persons obviously in the grip of some power which made them fearless and eloquent. They were telling the wonderful things God had done and was doing and would do. Furthermore, the throngs that jammed the city at that time of year were representative of all the Middle East and much of the known world, and each heard the message in the language of their birth. These were not the stiff, studied tones of foreigners, but the flowing syllables of the native and yet, by their appearance and demeanor, these were provincials! What does all this mean? Some simplistic scoffer shouts, “They’re drunk!”
All the individual shouting has largely died down, and the crowd has by spontaneous consent concentrated itself in one place and turned its attention to one man who is obviously a leader. He now answers the heckler, “For these are not drunken, as ye suppose...But THIS IS THAT (emphasis added) which was spoken by the prophet Joel;...saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh....” (Acts 2:15-17) The quietness deepened as the discourse continued. The power that flowed through the speaker reached out and gripped the hearers. When they could bear it no longer, they cried out as with one voice, “...Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:3 7)
Back came the answer, “...Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” By the close of that day, there were 3,000 new believers. A short time later the numbers had swelled to 5,000 plus.
Nor did it all end then. There were notable miracles of healing performed through these Christian disciples of Jesus in His name. The total effect was that the religious-political powers felt threatened and unleashed a terrible barrage of persecution, including mayhem, murder, and confiscation. Whereupon the disciples were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (see Acts 8:1) “...as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch.. .and.. .spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed....” (Acts 11:19-21)
From these early beginnings, let us in our minds span in a moment the 1968 years (approximately) that have transpired from then to now. Let us review our condition and position as disciples of Jesus Christ compared to those early Christians.
Politically our position is incomparably better. We here in North America have enjoyed the longest stretch of religious liberty in history. Educationally, there is also no comparison. We can all read. We all have Bibles. In the early days of the church the New Testament didn’t even exist. The Old Testament existed only in hand copied scrolls. Only the equivalent of a millionaire could afford a copy of a single book, much less all the Old Testament. Literacy was about ten percent or less so who needed a book? Economically, it is from night to day. Our national wealth has enabled us to produce the best fed, best clothed, best housed generation in history. We have the most discretionary income, and more places and ways to enjoy spending it than any people.
But, oh, how do we stack up spiritually? I am not referring to the population in general, but to professors of holiness in particular: to you and me to be specific. We profess to be and would like to sincerely believe we are the religious descendants of those illustrious saints of the early church as well as of those of more recent centuries who knew the fact and the fruit of a Holy Spirit filled life. The first generation of Christians spread the gospel from Spain to China without a plane, train, automobile, or even a bicycle. It was not done on petroleum power, but Holy Ghost power! We would like to tell ourselves and others that what we have is what they had. As Peter put it, “This is that.” But I ask you, “Is this, that?”
Many professors of the Holy Spirit baptism go year in and year out without bringing one person to Jesus Christ. Is this that? As a consequence our churches are diminishing in number and members. Do you know of any (even one) new conservative church that wasn’t the getting together of those who came out of something else? (Yes, they may have had every good reason to come out, but the fact remains that no new ground is being plowed.) “Is this that?” The opportunity base of the world is increasing every year. (Fully one half of all the people who have ever lived are alive right now, today!) The operational base for reaching the world is shrinking yearly. A smaller percentage of our shrinking members are answering the call to serve at home and abroad. As a people we are investing a smaller proportion of our cash flow (income, money) in spiritual endeavors at home or abroad than we did fifty, even thirty, years ago. “Is this that?”
No, friend, honestly now, we must admit whatever it is that happened to the 120 in the upper room is not happening around our altars and in our hearts today, regardless of what we profess. What we see is the purity of sterility, not the power of divine life surging through and through one’s being until it is reproduced in others. Jesus promised to give us the power to witness. There is an entire generation in America who need to hear the gospel from a purified, empowered heart and life. One may say, “I have the purity, but not the power.” Not so! If you don’t have the power, it is because you have stifled it or trifled it away. Where one draws back or fails to press forward, immediately the seed of corruption is planted in the cleansed heart. It is even as it was with Eve who stifled the voice of conscience and trifled with doubt which led to disobedience and perdition.
Let us expect to have this Holy Ghost power and not accept its absence as the norm. If you don’t have this power of the Holy Spirit, ask for Him to come and bring it with Him. Power to be pure, power to witness, power to bring others to Jesus and see them saved.
Is this that?